The New Democrats would offer five more weeks of parental leave for single and two-parent families, as part of the party's proposal to improve employment insurance benefits if elected on Oct. 19.

The NDP proposal would make an additional five weeks of parental leave time available for the secondary caregiver in a two-parent household, or allow a single parent to take up to five additional weeks off, to care for a new child.

The current EI system allows biological mothers to take up to 15 weeks off just prior to and in the weeks following the birth of a child. In addition, a new child's parent or parents are afforded an additional 35 weeks of parental leave. This time can be shared between the two caregivers, and applies to the parents of a newborn or newly adopted child.

Under the NDP's proposed change to the system, the second parent would be afforded an additional five weeks off, which the primary caregiver would not be able to use. That means, for instance, that a mother could take up to 50 weeks off using maternal and parental leave, and the father would still be able to take off five weeks, either after the mother has used up her time and returned to work, or during the time that she is on leave.

Single parents would be allowed to tack the additional five weeks onto the end of their maximum allowed parental leave, meaning a single mother could take up to 55 weeks in maternal and parental leave.

The addition to the current EI system was announced at an NDP campaign stop in Moncton, N.B. on Tuesday. If elected, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair also said he would keep EI rates "steady" at the current $1.88 rate per $100 earned.

Stephen Harper's Conservative government has already set an EI rate of $1.49, which would come into effect in 2017. Under Mulcair's proposal, the 2017 rate would instead remain at $1.88 for four years.

Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau has pledged to set the EI rate at $1.65 in 2017. The Tories characterized that as a tax hike -- a criticism Mulcair said would be unfounded of the NDP promise.

"We're not raising the rates of EI," Mulcair said. "We're maintaining them so that we can avoid the cuts, the cuts that the Conservatives have brought in."

The Liberal Party has proposed a more flexible parental benefits program that would allow parents to take their leave in smaller blocks of time, spread out over 18 months. Under the Liberal plan, a parent could take a few months off, return to work for a period of time, then take more time off. The Liberal proposal would also allow parents to take up to 18 months of parental leave, but at a reduced benefit level.

The NDP say they will use the money retained by keeping the EI rate steady to expand compassionate care benefits, add more training programs, and to make it more "fair" for workers to gain access to EI benefits. They also pledged to remove the EI fund from general revenues, so the federal government can no longer dip into its EI money to balance its budget.